Oops, she's pregnant...Now What?
You may have taken a bit too long to arrange for that vet’s visit to spay your cat or picked up a pregnant female.
The signs of pregnancy
Most often you would not know your cat is pregnant until she is well into the gestation period. It takes three weeks before cat pregnancy signs become visible. If you think your cat may be pregnant, check the nipples as these would become more pink and prominent. From this point onwards it would take approximately 6 weeks before the kittens arrive. Overall the cat pregnancy lasts about 57 -69 days, about 62 to 65 being an average.
The cats tummy will also grow, but it would take about 5 weeks before this is visible. Your female cat may become more docile and cuddly, willing to spend more time indoors and ask for more food.
Spaying is still possible
The kitten litters can range from one to eight (or even more kittens), although usually it ranges between 2 to 4. Are you up for the challenge?
It is possible to spay a pregnant cat, but that decision will depend on a number of factors and will need to be considered together with the veterinary doctor.
One of the major factors is how far advanced is the pregnancy. The spaying can be carried out early on, but would not be appropriate at more advanced stages. The age of the cat is also a factor as very young (under a year) or older (over 8-9 years) mothers-to-be may give birth to deformed kittens or die themselves during birth.
If you suspect that your cat is pregnant, you should take her to a doctor to confirm the pregnancy, check the state of her health and discuss possible spaying options.
Assuming the pregnancy is allowed to continue, you should ensure a diet that is high in nutrients and protein. Plenty of fresh water should also be available at all times. It is advisable to add high quality kitten food to the kitty’s diet especially the last month before giving birth. Continue supplementing the cat’s diet with kitten food until the kittens have been weaned off. The amount of the food intake will increase considerably around the time of the births and in the first few weeks of lactation and, as long as the cat is not becoming obese, you should not withhold the food.
Just before delivery
A week or so before the kittens are due to arrive, prepare a delivery basket for the birth of the kittens. You can use an old laundry basket or a cardboard box. These should be lined with towels or a baby blanket. The box should be large enough for the cat to stretch out in with a little room extra. Consider covering the box so that it is dark whilst allowing the cat to comfortably get in and out. Bear in mind, though, that despite your best efforts the kitty may decide to have the babies somewhere other than the box, but it is a good idea to give her that option.
During the final three weeks of pregnancy the cat should be separated from other cats and kept indoors at all times.
In most cases your support would not be needed, or indeed wanted, by your cat. You may even wake up one morning to discover that your kitty has given birth during the night and is happily nursing her kittens.
Kittens may arrive a few minutes to a couple of hours apart. Then entire birthing process can take from 2 to 6 hours depending on the number of kittens and the age of the mother. Pauses in the delivery are a frequent occurrence, and the mother cat may appear to totally go out of labour for some time. However, you should call the veterinary clinic if the cat is straining for more than 45 minutes without producing a kitten.
It can happen, however, that the cat does not clean the fluid-filled sac away from the new born kitten(s). In that case you would need to interfere by puncturing the sac with your fingers and removing all the matter from around the kittens face and nostrils with a piece of clean cotton. It will also be necessary to separate the umbilical cord by tying it about 3 centimeters from the kitten’s body and cutting it gently. Do not tie the cord if it is thick and irregular because in rare cases a loop of intestine may have entered through the abdominal wall. If in doubt, call your veterinarian rather than make a serious mistake.
Give the kitten to the mother-cat to lick. If she does not do this, the kitten will need to be wrapped in a soft clean cloth and massaged gently to clean it up and help it with breathing. Keep in mind that new born kittens are very fragile and easily injured.
Seek immediate medical help if:
- The mother cat looks weak or sick;
- A placenta is not seen with or after each kitten;
- A kitten does not exit the birth canal and cannot be removed gently;
- The mother cat has abdominal contractions but no kitten arrives for more than 45 minutes;
- Green-coloured discharge or excessive bleeding occurs during or after the delivery.
After birth, kittens are completely helpless and have not yet developed necessary survival skills. Kittens are born deaf and blind. Most mother cats will know what to do and the best way you can help is to give the young family the peace and quiet. Unless absolutely necessary, restrain your enthusiasm to handle kittens at all until they are at least 7 days old. This is because young kittens have a very low immunity and are prone to a wide range of infections.
Newborn kittens cannot regulate their own body temperature, have little body fat and have immature circulatory systems. It is important to keep the room where the kittens are located warm and free of drafts because the kittens can develop potentially live threatening conditions.
The mother cat will usually stay with the young kittens all the time unless she gets up to eat or use the litter box. It is important to note, however, that female cats can go into heat in as little as 48 hours after giving birth; therefore the cat should not be allowed to go outside or mingle with unsterilized indoor male cats.